SDLP MLA for Mid-Ulster Patsy McGlonehas called for senior politicians in the north to show respect for difference at all times.
Mr McGlone, who is chair of the Assembly’s Enterprise Committee, said there were massive opportunities for overseas export trade in countries with large Muslim populations which run into hundreds of millions of pounds.
“For example, for 2012/13, the export market in the Middle East was worth £221m, in Asia it totalled £386m; in Africa £170m and in Turkey £24.1m,” he said.
“The flag protests we have seen have seriously damaged the image of the north abroad, which has barely begun to be recovered with events such as the Giro d’Italia.
“The controversy caused by the remarks of Pastor James McConnell and the ensuing comments from the First Minister portrayed Northern Ireland as a very unwelcoming place not accommodating difference and not respecting those of different religious faiths,” Mr McGlone stated.
“That is far from the reality with the majority of the people in the north, many of whom - in their thousands - have had to travel overseas to seek work in the past and, indeed, still do. That experience should lead to its own conclusion. We should treat others as we would expect to be treated ourselves - respectfully.”